A Day in the Life of a Zero Waste Ambassador 

Events at Missouri Botanical Garden all start in a similar way: cool, dark, and calm before thousands of visitors arrive to enjoy the day. Staff and volunteers arrive early to the quiet grounds of the Garden to prepare, including the Zero Waste Ambassadors team of volunteers dedicated to reducing the waste sent to the landfill from these large events.  

Zero Waste Ambassadors ready to help visitors sort waste at Japanese Festival. Photo by Lisa DeLorenzo.

Getting started 

Volunteers start each shift by finding their Zero Waste tent, set up with recycling, compost, and landfill stations where visitors can sort their waste. Zero Waste Ambassadors receive training in best practices for sharing information about waste reduction and assisting visitors in sorting their waste. Ambassadors frequently have to answer questions about whether an item is recyclable or compostable. Volunteers shared that, “people are surprised when compostables can stay out of the trash,” especially the compostable plastics used at events that are made from corn. 

Sorting through Challenges 

One of the big challenges is that sometimes, people throw everything in the trash instead of sorting it. At that point, many volunteers take on the challenge of sorting all those items into recycling, compost, and trash. All volunteers have access to trash pickers, gloves, and gallons of hand sanitizer to help them sort trash safely.  

Another challenge for some volunteers is staying positive when waste systems outside the Garden do not provide the same opportunity for recycling and composting. At each event, staff work behind the scenes to make sure all vendors have recyclable or compostable items so that very little goes to the landfill. In other words, “the Garden sets things up to be easy,” which makes it a great place to learn about sustainability.  

What keeps them coming back 

One would think sorting trash would not be the favorite volunteer position at events, but Ambassadors come back year after year because they love doing something positive for the Garden. Volunteers say they enjoy meeting people and teaching them what goes where, and, helping them learn how to recycle and compost correctly. One volunteer said that being a Zero Waste Ambassador is, “my way of doing my part. By learning I can share that knowledge.” 

Recycling after an event at the Garden.

By the Numbers 

At the end of each day, the sustainability team at Missouri Botanical Garden along with the dedicated facilities support staff takes a final moment to check all the recycling dumpsters and compost bins for any contamination. This is also a rewarding opportunity to admire the work of the dozens of staff and volunteers, from the Zero Waste Ambassadors in tents to the staff member picking up waste bags. It is the opportunity to see how much was saved from going to the landfill and how everyone played a part.  

The Garden is proud to be an institutional sustainability leader by consistently maintaining one of the highest diversion rates of food waste and compostables from the landfill during events in the region. For example, in 2022 an average of 87% of waste generated during the multi-day Japanese Festival and Best of Missouri Market events, which hosted 61,000 guests combined, was collected for recycling and commercial composting! 

Zero Waste Ambassadors at Missouri Botanical Garden play a major role in the community and help to connect visitors to sustainable solutions they can use in their own homes. As our volunteers Bob and Carol Krause said, “We only have one planet.  It’s important we take care of it and it takes care of us.” 

How you can help 

Are you inspired by the work of Missouri Botanical Garden volunteers? Do you want to create a more sustainable St. Louis? Join the Zero Waste Ambassador team. Contact Maggie at mmccoy@mobot.org for more information or with questions. 

Thank you to all the volunteers who serve as Zero Waste Ambassadors who shared their experiences – Jim Klenke, Bruce Kothe, Bob Krause, Carol Krause, Dan O’Connor, and Meredith O’Connor. 

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